Africa has the potential to invent, innovate and foster a thriving technology and research entrepreneurship ecosystem.
Entrepreneur, Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of iVacBio Dr. Sibongile Gumbi, reckons that Botswana’s top ranking in the 2018 Global Entrepreneurship Index (GEI) is testament to the possibilities the country presents for entrepreneurship participation in the economy.
Dr Gumbi, whose career has spanned the technology innovation value chain starting from idea creation to having products in the market has held numerous posts in the area of technology and innovation management including Group Executive, Biotechnology and Manager, Business Development and Commercialisation at the Medical Research Council (South Africa) is a Fellow of the eighth class of the African Leadership Initiative and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. Her start-up company manufactures vaccines against prevalent livestock diseases.
During her presentation, she noted that though bearing the capability to diversify the economy, entrepreneurship needs a sturdy rock-bed created by government through policy and regulation, creating a healthy ecosystem for star-up businesses to compete and thrive.
She was speaking at the recent Botswana Institute for Technology Research and Innovation (BITRI) public seminar on the topic “Leveraging on the Innovation Ecosystem - Technology Transfer and Commercialization; the case of new Research Technology and Innovation Institutes” and her presentation focused on fostering an innovation ecosystem.
“Business is the main driver of innovation and government has to provide an enabling environment with instruments such as tax incentives, procurement –as governments are the biggest buyers of commodities, protectionist policies as well as concerted support of research and development,” she said, highlighting that innovation has to be country specific as no one can recreate silicon valley where most technology innovations are made.
Dr. Gumbi however noted worriedly that despite Botswana ranking high on the 2018 (GEI) only 26.2 percent of entrepreneurs aspired to build a billion dollar company, something she noted should be at the top of the mind of someone working on starting a business.
Speaking at the seminar, BITRI Board Member, Lesego Thamae explained that the call was for stakeholders to map a way on how the academia and Research and Development institutions can leverage on the existing innovation ecosystem for effective and smooth technology transfer for the benefit of the nation.
BITRI as a science and technology research institution strives to make a positive impact through knowledge generation and aspires to be measured against its capability to move research and development results from the laboratory into new or improved products and services in the marketplace.
“Our success in translating research results into practice not only accelerates the beneficial aspects of our research, but also has a major positive impact on Botswana’s economy. This is an important role for BITRI in today’s knowledge-driven economy,” she said. This she said was of paramount importance as the country is working towards moving from a mineral based economy to a knowledge-based economy. She made note that the transition is possible through the commercialization of local technologies, one of the pillars upon which the country pins its hopes for the future.
She highlighted that BITRI was established to contribute to the country’s socio-economic needs and global competitiveness in addition to its vision of being “The leading technology solutions provider that transforms lives”.
The institution has adopted a robust philosophy “Technology Solutions from You to Us for You” that defines how it goes about executing its mandate for the betterment of Batswana. “At the core of this philosophy are the underlying operative words ‘co-creation’ and ‘collaboration’ and thus as a research technology organisation that operates in the innovation ecosystem, BITRI is equally important and must diligently and effectively play its role through co creation and collaboration as it exists to conduct demand-driven research and development.
Thamae continued to request and encourage members of the public, Small Medium Enterprises (SME’s), local companies, organizations, academia and the industry to collaborate and co-create with the institution to provide relevant and useful technology solutions to problems they are confronted with.
“There is no how BITRI can provide relevant, useful and sustainable technology solutions if the parties I have just mentioned do not talk to each other and work together,” she cemented. She also highlighted that the institution has a well-established Department of Research and Partnerships, which has managed to establish the Technology Transfer Office whose main responsibility is to ensure that BITRI invented technologies are transferred and/or commercialized to reach and benefit end users. The Department is the BITRI contact point to all external stakeholders.
For his part, Botswana Vaccine Institute (BVI) Managing Director, Dr. George Matlho said research institutes should work together to consolidate and ensure Intellectual Property (IP) is developed and taken to the market. “Research institutes have worked as silos for a long time resulting in duplication of efforts causing the delay in the commercialisation of products,” he said. He also noted that research institutions should also drive and organize research needs for SME’s; something he believes would eventually transform Botswana’s mineral led economy to a knowledge based one.